The report that no fewer than 40 million Nigerians suffer from one mental illness or another is, to say the least, alarmingly worrisome. When this figure is broken down, it means that an estimated 20 percent of the country’s population is believed to suffer from mental disorders. According to the report, one in five Nigerian youths have mental health issues and one in four adults (25 percent) will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. This is a very significant number considering Nigeria’s estimated population of over 180 million.
The sheer size of the affected population calls for the declaration of emergency on mental illness and every effort should be geared towards tackling this disturbing scourge.
This frightening statistics was made public recently at a mental health action committee and stakeholders’ workshop in Abuja. The permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Mashi Abdullahi, attributed the country’s high burden of mental disorders in the country to inadequate attention paid to mental illness, misconceptions and lack of awareness on the part of the Nigerian public.
According to him, more people will be disabled by psychological challenges than the combined effects of complications arising from HIV/AIDS, heart disease, accidents and wars by the year 2020.
This depressing statistics was also corroborated by the director of Public Health in the ministry, Dr Evelyn Ngige, who attributed the prevalence of deteriorating mental health among Nigerians to the current economic hardships in the country.
According to her, the recent suicidal episodes in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria should force a rethink in our general attitudes to mental health and question our current management of such issues.
There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, but the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, and schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms such as changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.
In fact, a mental disorder may also be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. Mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological, and may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, and so on.
Regrettably, not much attention is given to mental health disorders in the country and even when such attention ever occurs, it is grosslyinadequate. The level of awareness of the public on mental health issues is also reasonably poor, with lots of misconceptions.
It is therefore against this backdrop that we, as a nation, cannot hold claim to be making progress in the healthcare sector while millions of our people are suffering from mental disorders. And when people with severe mental disorders – moderate to severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders – are added to this figure, the picture would be worse.
It is worthy to note that having such a large chunk of the population suffering from mental ill-health is not good for the country’s economic development. Many persons in this category will not have the necessary coordination to contribute meaningfully to any form of economic activity. They often waste away if they do not have relatives with the wherewithal to treat and cater for them.
We urge the federal government to, as a matter of urgency, fast-track the enactment of the Mental Health Act as well as the resuscitation of the National Mental Health Action Committee for the coordination of stakeholders’ activities on mental health and psychosocial supports in the country.
This, we believe, will help in addressing the country’s huge mental health burden.
The federal and state governments must also work assiduously towards improving mental healthcare by tackling discrimination through individual and community initiatives as well as strengthen national programmes, policies and legislative measures.
Aside this, we must intensify support from partners, civil society and donors, as well as strengthen the capacity of healthcare providers towards addressing this growing problem in the communities.
Above all, more trained and motivated personnel are urgently needed in the area of mental health and psychiatry, as the present professional medic to patient ratio is grossly inadequate.
To get a majority of the population out of the mental scourge, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) should be made functional and effective, and affected persons should have easy access to drugs. In general, the fight against mental illness should receive more official attention than is currently the case. That way, the present unsavoury situation would be reversed.
Above all, governments at all levels should work assiduously to make the country liveable so that excessive and prolonged frustrations do not force our countrymen and women to resort to actions and habits that lead them into developing mental disorders.
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